Presbytery Leader Report to Presbytery 2.6.2016
During Advent I worshiped at Faith Presbyterian Church in Des Peres. Several pews in the sanctuary were turned to create a sense of intimacy. The largest Advent candles I had ever seen strategically illumined sacred space. A compelling message was communicated by the singing of the choir and the preaching of Pastor Anne Epling. Worshiping at my neighborhood church, Second Presbyterian, I joined with others on Christmas Eve in passing the light of Christ. At Steelville Presbyterian Church, I preached and moderated a congregational meeting. This congregation reflects vitality and vibrancy! I also preached at the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church of Greater St. Louis, a congregation with an amazing ministry with students who come from Taiwan to our city to engage in graduate and residency programs at area universities and hospitals. One young woman enthusiastically announced that she will soon be baptized as a Christian!
These Sunday visits with congregations enable me to catch a glimpse of how we are nurturing of faith and accomplishing our vision of vibrancy. To date I have worshiped on Sunday morning in 50 of our 80 churches. Worship services are consistently well-organized; pastors preach powerful sermons; musicians lead joyful songs of praise, and members are welcoming. If worship alone were the key to growing our congregations, our churches would be increasing in members and thriving. Perhaps we can take some cues from the first century Christians. The early disciples gathered in homes to sing praises to God, to hear the stories about Jesus, to listen to messages in letters from the Apostle Paul and other church leaders. They prayed. In worship together the disciples were filled with the Spirit, gained strength for their mission, and went to tell friends and neighbors about Jesus.
Much of the rest of my work involves meeting with teams, work groups and committees, connecting people, problem-solving, coaching pastors and other church leaders. Working with the Leadership Team and the Transition Team in developing and tweaking the New Mission Plan has been engaging and exciting. Supporting pastors who nurture faith, accompany members through illness and grief, preach and teach the Gospel is a major focus of my ministry. I am privileged to witness the generosity of ruling elders and church members who serve not only their congregations, but give of their time, wisdom and energy on teams, committees, and work groups of the Presbytery.
The Ministry and mission of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery is occurring during a time of tremendous change. PCUSA membership is decreasing. Many of us grew up in a time when the Protestant Christian narrative was the norm. Most of our friends went to churches on Sundays. However, during 1960’s and 70’s people in the US challenged traditional institutions, including the Church. In our time, according to Hartford Institute of Religious Research, only 20% of people in the US attend church most every Sunday. How do we encourage the faith of our neighbors and friends?
When we leave worship, we are sent by the Holy Spirit to feed the hungry, heal the sick and share the Good News of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ. The early Christians lived in a culturally diverse world that didn’t know Jesus. We live in an increasingly culturally diverse world that does not know Jesus. Presbyterians have been thoughtfully taught in Sunday School classes and youth groups, at summer camp programs and through worship. We have worked to embrace diversity.
At the annual Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observance, the Dismantling Racism and Privilege Team led those of us who gathered through reflection on what we have learned about addressing racism, and we listened to stirring excerpts from King’s I Have a Dream speech. February is Black History month, and we will be reminded repeatedly over the course of these days, of how far we have come in this long journey toward racial reconciliation. We are God’s people, called to proclaim the liberating love Jesus demonstrated in his life, death, and resurrection. In this time of rapid change, when people are seeking meaning and open to working together against injustice, what messages of God’s love will we share with our neighbors and friends. How will we communicate the Good News of Jesus? What opportunities are presented to bear witness and invite others to come and see what God is up to in our churches?